Ohio Gadfly Daily

The proposal of a few members of the state legislature to increase the transparency around charter schools is a fine idea. But their allegation that charters “waste” public funds—apparently without acknowledging the infirmity of Ohio’s urban districts—is shameful discourse that conceals the woeful facts about public schools in urban areas, where most charters reside.

Consider the Columbus Dispatch’s report of what two lawmakers had to say about charters.

The lawmakers say increased scrutiny of spending is needed because 87 percent of charters received a D or F on recent state report cards.

“These changes are urgently needed to ensure that our school children receive the education they deserve and that tax dollars are not wasted,” Schiavoni said.

Carney noted that after excluding dropout recovery and special-needs charter schools – which many agree should not be held to the same standard – nearly $500 million went to failing charters last year.

Granted, $500 million per year is a large amount of public funds and again, let me be clear, charter schools must show a return on that public investment. But why don’t we put this figure into perspective, in light of what we know about Ohio’s large urban districts?

The table below displays the performance index rating (student achievement), the value-added rating (a school or district’s contribution to learning), and the amount of state revenue provided for Ohio’s “Urban Eight” school districts. As you’ll note, state spending on Cleveland and Columbus school districts alone exceeds $500...

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  1. A group of lawmakers pledged yesterday to introduce legislation to require what they say will be more transparency and accountability for operators and sponsors of charter schools. This was, of course, covered all over the state. Fordham’s Chad Aldis was quoted on the topic by the Dispatch. (Columbus Dispatch)
  2. Chad was not included in reports on the announcement in Cleveland (Plain Dealer) or in Akron. (Beacon Journal)
  3. Here’s the first of two stories from Zanesville about the Third Grade Reading Guarantee. The first one discusses the results of the first test last fall in several local districts, along with discussion of what is being done to help those students who did not pass. Says Zanesville’s Title 1 coordinator: “I never have a problem with accountability. I don’t feel any panic or trepidation toward the test at all.” Nice. (Zanesville Times Recorder)
  4. And, if it’s so good for traditional district and charter school students, the provisions of the TGRG should apply to voucher students at private schools as well. (Zanesville Times Recorder)
  5. Tussles over public schools wanting to hold graduation ceremonies in church buildings are not new in Ohio. Here’s a new one from Toledo that involves a statewide virtual school and a nationwide organization who is weighing
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  1. Last week, you no doubt heard that the Ohio Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case involving White Hat, a large and well-known charter school management company, and 10 of its former managee schools over the issue of just who owns the assets of a charter school should it seek to disengage from its management contract. It’s a complex question with a lot at stake based on the final ruling – not just for charter school contracts but potentially for contract law writ large across the state. Fordham’s Chad Aldis spelled it out succinctly in an interview for Kent State’s public radio station.  It is important to note that Chad’s participation in this piece comes as a direct result of the Sunshine Week assault on White Hat by all the cub reporters overseen by the Beacon Journal’s Doug “Dog” Livingston. I guarantee that Chad’s answers were not what this particular cub was expecting. (WKSU-FM radio)
  2. It is with great pleasure that I announce on this page that Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins (DMC!) has decided to break the city council’s tie vote in favor of Horizon Science Academy's application for a use permit that would allow them to purchase the Toledo YMCA building  – after more than six months of work/delay/debate/votes – to move and expand the school. It is with even more pleasure that this is the on-the-record reason why Mr. Collins decided the way he
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Welcome to Ohio Education News, a new daily roundup of stories from news outlets across Ohio in blog form from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Hopefully delivered with just a little bit of Fordham-style commentary.

Comments welcome below.

  1. Editors in Columbus opine on charter school accountability, referencing the recent stories and editorial in the Akron Beacon Journal. And, really, who can blame them? (Columbus Dispatch)
  2. “We’ll go immediately into recruitment and identification of the students,” said Toledo Schools’ superintendent Romules Durant, speaking about Pathway to Prosperity, a local effort to make students career-ready through rigorous academic and career-focused curriculum, which received a competitive federal grant of nearly $4 million last week. Toledo is the only Ohio recipient of these funds. Don’t know whether this bodes well or ill for TPS’ Head Start grant, on which much is still hanging. (Toledo Blade)
  3. The first ever year-round high schools may be on the way in Cleveland. Can’t believe it’s taken this long to get there. Even Columbus has had them for several years, even down to the elementary level. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
  4. The Vindy reports on Ohio's new teacher evaluation protocols, with some interesting input from the Mahoning County ESC, just as efforts are ramping up in the legislature to change it. Stay tuned! (Youngstown Vindicator)
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School boards matter. Indeed, in Fordham’s new report Do School Boards Matter?  researchers found that knowledgeable, hard-working boards that prioritize student achievement govern higher-performing districts. Perhaps this is no surprise, particularly given the wide-ranging authority of boards. In Ohio, school boards’ statutory powers include prescribing curriculum, appointing a treasurer and superintendent, creating a school schedule, and entering into labor contracts with teachers. Meanwhile, we in Columbus have painfully observed what happens when a school board fails to exercise diligent oversight.

School boards, then, can be potent entities (or dismally impotent ones). But does anyone care about them?

To dig into this question, I look at the November 2013 school-board elections for Franklin County. The county has a nice mix of districts, including one big-city district (Columbus) and a number of both high- and low-wealth suburban districts. I look at three data points: The number of contested seats, voter turnout rates, and “undervotes” among those who actually went to the polls. This slice of data portrays a general air of apathy among the electorate toward school boards.

First, when it comes to competition for seats, many of the seats went uncontested. Remarkably, there were just seventy-two candidates vying for fifty board seats across Franklin County—less than two candidates per open seat. In fact, five of the seventeen school districts had entirely uncontested races (the number of candidates equaled the number of open seats). If you ran for office in those districts, you automatically...

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In the waning days of 2013, I highlighted five big issues to keep an eye on in 2014. Ohio’s new teacher-evaluation system was number two on the list. In terms of predictions mine was anything but bold; after all, this is the first school year that the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) has been implemented. Any new system, especially one as important and controversial as OTES, is going to make headlines.

Last fall, Senator Randy Gardner introduced legislation (Senate Bill 229) to make minor modifications to the evaluation system. Most notably, he proposed reducing from 50 to 35 percent the amount of a teacher’s performance evaluation that is based on student achievement and lengthening the time between evaluations to three years for many teachers. The bill sailed through the Senate in less than a month, but it stalled in the House Education Committee until recently.

The House last week unveiled a substitute bill (legislative comparison document) that clarifies some ambiguities in the law and offers helpful tweaks. Other modifications are more substantive and could help school leaders to more accurately determine a teacher’s performance level. The most substantial among the House’s proposed changes include the following:

  • Incorporate student surveys into teacher ratings. Borrowing from the recent Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) study sponsored by the Gates Foundation, it would allow (not require) school districts to use student surveys as 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation and would reduce the emphasis on the teacher-observation
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As in many states across America, too many young adults in Ohio are unemployed, disengaged, and on the road to nowhere. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that approximately 140,000 Ohioans aged twenty-five to thirty-four have not earned a high-school diploma. Within this same age bracket, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 85,000 job-seeking young adults (or 7.6 percent of them) are unemployed in the Buckeye State.

Given these alarming statistics, the state’s efforts to support young adults in dire straits is admirable. But Ohio’s House Bill 343, which would extend access to a free and public education to young adults ages twenty-two to twenty-nine, doesn’t get the remedy right. In fact, the bill may provide an antidote more toxic than the ailment it intends to treat.

The legislation would allow up to 1,500 young adults to enroll in a dropout-recovery charter school or a school in a “challenged district” if the adult resides in the district. These students would be allowed to attend the school up to two cumulative years with the purpose of obtaining a high-school diploma. Public aid would fund the enrollment expansion at $5,800 per pupil for fiscal year 2015. The bill requires the State Board of Education to develop reporting and accountability standards for any school that enrolls young adults aged twenty-two to twenty-nine in a dropout-recovery program.

For three reasons, the legislature should think twice before enacting this bill or an omnibus bill that includes the provisions contained in House...

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Recognizing the contribution of schools and teachers to their students’ learning is a key element of a performance-based accountability system. Yet determining how to measure such contributions remains unsettled science. Two approaches—student-growth percentile (SGP) and value added (VAM)—have emerged as the most rigorous ways to measure contributions to growth. Even within the value-added category, there are several ways to specify the statistical model. (Ohio, along with a few other states, uses a proprietary model that was developed by William Sanders and is run by statisticians at SAS.) But does the model actually matter, as it pertains to teacher-level ratings? In this paper, researchers compare SGP to VAM, using longitudinal student data from public schools in Washington, D.C.. Interestingly, the authors specify a teacher-level VAM (not the Ohio model) that includes student background characteristics and an SGP model that excludes them.[1] Generally speaking, the researchers found strong correlations between the models (greater than 0.9 for both math and reading). However, the analysts found a number of outlying teachers whose growth estimates were substantially different across the two models. As a result, a minority of teachers (14 percent) would have landed in a different rating category depending on the model. The analysts, however, attribute very little of the differences to the inclusion-exclusion of background variables. So is one model superior? The authors can’t say—there’s no “magic model” to compare them with—but their research demonstrates that different models can alter some teachers’ ratings. Ohio’s state-level policymakers should...

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  • Horizon Science Academy in downtown Toledo has been entangled in a months-long process to secure a new facility by buying the building currently housing the YMCA. Despite a signed contract and a use permit approved by two of three needed city entities, the deal has stalled. They are opposed in this effort by a neighborhood group which would prefer Toledo Public Schools take over the space for a Head Start program and affiliated services, regardless of the fact that TPS has no funds on hand to do so. You can read the whole saga as it has unfolded on the Ohio Gadfly Daily, but the vote last week in city council to grant final approval for the use of a school in the building tied at 6–6. The city’s new mayor D. Michael Collins declined to cast the deciding vote at the time; he has two weeks in which to do so.
  • Kudos to Chris Woolard, Director of Accountability at the Ohio Department of Education, for winning the 2014 State Data Leader Award from the Data Quality Campaign. Chris and his team were recognized for their efforts to ensure Ohio teachers and administrators have easy access to timely, relevant student data, as well as training in how to appropriately and meaningfully use those data to improve results for students. You can check out an audio interview with Chris, where he discusses the vital work of bridging the gap between data systems and the teachers who use them.
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Life Skills Centers, a group of fifteen dropout-recovery charter schools operated by White Hat Management, is on the decline. Last year’s enrollment (school year 2012-13) was less than half that of 2006. The erosion of Life Skills Centers’ enrollment bucks the steadily rising trend in Ohio’s overall charter enrollment. And within dropout-recovery charters—a special subset of schools that enroll at-risk high-school students—Life Skills Centers’ enrollment losses have also been atypical. Excluding Life Skills, the state’s sixty or so dropout-recovery schools have experienced flat to increasing enrollment trends from 2006 to 2013 with the exception of 2012.[1]

Chart 1: Life Skills Center student enrollment, 2005-06 to 2012-13

Source: Ohio Department of Education Notes: The number of Life Skills Centers has remained constant—fifteen schools—throughout this period except for 2005-06 when there were fourteen schools. There are three former Life Skills Centers (then operated by White Hat) that changed management companies and school names effective July 2012. These schools are not included in the totals in chart 1 or table 1 for any years.

Perhaps the enrollment decline is no surprise, given the low performance of these schools. Table 1 shows the five-year cohort graduation rates for Life Skills Centers from 2009-10 to 2011-12. The graduation rates for their pupils are sometimes less than ten percent. The Life Skills Center in Dayton performs the highest among the group: 25 percent graduation rate in 2011-12; 22 percent in 2010-11....

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